November 22, 2015

Cornellians Address Diversity, Inequality Over ‘Breaking Bread’ Meal

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“We have been listening to your stories,” said Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean and director of intercultural programs, student and academic services. “[This dinner] is a way to work together, establishing commonalities as we work across differences.”

Speaking to nearly 90 students, administrators and faculty members on Thursday, Alexander encouraged them to speak openly about race and campus climate with each other over a meal.

The “Breaking Bread” dinner, held in the Biotechnology Building, was filled with 10 tables with about eight participants each. The dinner and the small group setting aimed to allow participants to feel comfortable expressing their feelings and sharing their personal stories in a safe space.

To stimulate and direct conversation at the tables, facilitators posed three questions to participants, asking individuals to elaborate on their experiences with issues including race in higher education and how the University and members of the community can act in the future to better the campus climate.

Many participants began the conversation by sharing personal stories.

Campus-wide Breaking Bread Dinner. Cameron Pollack / Sun Senior Photographer

Campus-wide Breaking Bread Dinner. Cameron Pollack / Sun Senior Photographer

“I’m biracial and have heard people talk about Asians dismissively while I’m sitting right there, hidden in some sense by my mixed features,” said John Lowry ’16, president of the class of 2016, on his experiences as an Asian-American. “I understand that they probably don’t take it to heart, and if they knew I were part-Asian, they would be more careful. Nevertheless it hurts, and I’d like to think that you don’t speak ill of others regardless of whether or not someone is present.”

Amiri Banks ’17, a participant and facilitator, echoed Lowry and said he believes social categories impact individuals’ perspectives significantly.

“Because interactions in society are built on a dichotomy of perception, we often find ourselves forced to check a certain box or present ourselves as a certain type of person when it comes to race,” said Banks, who is also a columnist for The Sun. “And the implications of this categorization for a person’s sense of self-identity and mental health can be far greater than we realize.”

Shifting from personal stories, participants led a discussion that focused on issues of race on Cornell’s campus.

“Here at Cornell, we pride ourselves on compositional diversity,” Nicolette Jooyoung Lee ’15 said. “But we still have work to do on inclusion and engagement across our many diverse communities.”

One place on campus that students felt a particular lack of mixing and open discussion is in the classroom.

“I would love to see more diversity in the classroom,” Carúmey Stevens ’19 said. “Especially in STEM classes where diversity is not the focus.”

Minority students also spoke about being the subject of diversity when issues being the subject of diversity when issues on race, for example, were brought up in the classroom. Students recalled being singled out or looked to for answers when these instances occurred.

“People rely on minority people to describe racial issues,” said Aditi Bhowmick ’16, who is also a columnist for The Sun. “The burden to talk about it and justify myself is so overwhelming.”

Conversations also addressed questions that arise at the intersection of free speech, diversity of thought, power, privilege and equity.

Members also noted the importance of facilitating training of faculty in dialogue skills. Banks recalled several instances in which a professor seemed either oblivious to an insensitive remark, or completely unable to react.

“The institution has a responsibility to educate its educators so that they are well equipped to handle issues that come up in the classroom, and also so that they avoid placing excessive pressure on students of color to defend themselves from attack or speak for entire groups of people,” Banks said. “Having these fundamental tools and skills will allow them to demonstrate the nuance, empathy, and awareness required to prevent students from disengaging from the conversation or dismissing the experiences of others.”

Students also discussed desires to see more campus-wide initiatives to help foster awareness and understanding of inequalities that exist.

“There needs to be more than just one hour [of teaching] during [orientation] week,” Stevens said. “Understanding needs to be taught over time.”

  • Cornell Alum

    “I would love to see more diversity in the classroom,” said Carúmey Stevens ’19. “Especially in STEM classes where diversity is not the focus.”

    Not every class should be focused on diversity. Many majors already have diversity distributions that must be fulfilled (looking at you, DSOC 1101). Why should orgo broach diversity?

    • Anon

      “E=mc^2 is a sexed equation. It privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us.”

      “The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, is attributed to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids… From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.”

      –Renowned feminist Luce Irigaray

      “Why is it not as illuminating and honest to refer to Newton’s laws as “Newton’s rape manual” as it is to call them “Newton’s mechanics”?”

      –Sandra Harding, UCLA professor of “feminist and postcolonial theory”

      • John Randall

        Truly bizarre juxtapositions of unrelated topics.

    • CStevens

      In reply to your sentiments, the push is not to be taught diversity in STEM classes. The push is for more representation in these classes. For example, African American females make up less than 1% of the engineering school at Cornell. This is not a request to teach diversity in Mechanical Engineering; just a wish for that 1% to stop being the token. Secondly, if the swim test is required because it is seen as a “life skill,” why isn’t a short, maybe 7 week, one credit course required to educate students about how to navigate a diversified climate. Clearly, it is an issue on campus. Many of the racial issues between students on campus are rooted in ignorance and a serious lack of knowledge. If students can acquire this knowledge in more than a sad attempt for one hour during O week, they can learn awareness and help stop racial inequalities. Understanding, acceptance, and knowledge of how to conduct oneself among all races is something people seem to lack. And that, like the swim test, is a life skill as well.

      • Batista

        You seem to miss the point because you think there are racial inequalities on Campus does not mean that they exist, nor is anyone interested in wasting their time being forced to sit through your George Orwellian brainwashing class. Finally your classification of people by their skin color or gender is unfortunate but you are free to be racist. This is America. Most of us do not judge or group people by the mere color of their skin but you are free to do so.

        • CStevens

          Clearly, you have never experienced or been affected by institutionalized racism which is understandable considering many people have a certain level of privilege which prevents this. But as an African American female, I have. Whether I like it or not, when I walk into a room, before I even speak, I am categorized by the color of my skin and my gender. This is not something I can control. I would like to live an a utopian society where these factors are of no consequence, but we do not. For this reason, I will not be ignorant and say since people should not see me by these categories, they simply do not. In “post racial” America, groups are judged by the color of their skin everyday, including my own “group.” That may not be evident to you based on your life experiences. Another reason why we need education to teach those who are unaware. In addition, I’m sad that you see learning about differences and making efforts to educate and accept rather than tolerate differences as a “waste of time.” This is what needs to change in society, and this is why a class like this is needed.

          • Batista

            The sad thing is you do not even recognize how arrogant your position is. To assume you can dictate what ever other person sees and thinks when you walk into a room, regardless of the reality, is troubling at best. You have every right to assume others categorize you by your skin color or sex, and clearly you do the same. The majority of us, however, do not, and should not be forced to submit to your tyranny, simply because you are so narrow minded. As such, your curriculum is a waste of time for us, and I doubt a legitimate objective class would open your mind to judge people by something other then their skin color or sex, nor would I seek to force you to attend such a class. I am sad that you and people like you are so superficial and as such assume everyone else is, however, you are entitled to stand by your beliefs. You are also incorrect as to my experiences. I have been subject to institutional racism and I have no level of privilege other than earning my way through hard work to an Ivy league education, despite the institutional racism that stacked the deck against me. I stand against any attempt by one group to coerce another, and deeply regret that you are so closed minded to think you know and can define everyone else. There are white, black, red, and Asian racist. Privileged whites, blacks, Asians…There are underprivileged whites, browns, reds…Maybe you were not privileged maybe you were. When you walk into a room I see a person and not your color, sex or creed. When I walk into a room you see my color and sex. So who is the racist really?

          • CStevens

            While your belief that people do not see color or gender in this world is both admirable and optimistic, it is altogether unrealistic. I am not saying all people do, but many people do. It is natural for the human mind to do so. You may believe that people do not because of your social categories that make people seeing these categories only work to your advantage rather rhan disadvantage. The privilege I am referring to is not based on economic status. There is such a thing called “white privilege.” White privilege is the ability to walk into a room and not have to worry about people’s preconceptions about you merely based on the color of your skin. This is an innate privledge based on the dearth of melanin pigmentation in one’s skin. If you truly believe people do not make assumptions about people based on the color of their skin, you are denying the existence of stereotypes, racial issues, and discrimination altogether. Although I wish people did not, it is the sad truth. To ignore that fact, or say some people do not so it is not a problem, is pure ignorance.

          • Aisha

            Enough! We are here to get an education and to meet people from different walks of life. Yes, we are sometimes judge by the color of our skin or gender, but that fades away in the light of displayed competence . Some professors at this university are not fit to be teaching at an Ivy League, black or white professors. I hear nobody screaming when other marginalized groups are heckled or harassed. I do not see many black students at rallies for other minorities. If the curriculum is a waste of time for some, I suggest they enroll at another university that caters to their needs. Black Americans have shown prejudice tendencies towards other minorities such as Africans on campus at times and I do not see the African students running to the administration. What I see is that they are not demanding a slice of the pie, but all the pie and that is not acceptable. Some administrators on campus should stop enabling these students. What nonsense: “A student at Columbia University (Nissy Aya) in New York says it will take her six years to graduate … because she’s traumatized at having to read about white people.”

          • Room101

            If you come across as a person, an individual worth knowing, most people will probably warm to you.

            If you come across as part of a monolithic other swaggering to become an enemy based on race backed up by your government, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.

      • Cornell Alum

        As previously stated, many majors do require a diversity distribution already. Perhaps it this requirement could be expanded to other majors — that is a discussion that is worth having.

        Regarding my first post, the person I quoted seems to imply it is a problem that diversity “is not the focus” in STEM classes. It is my opinion that there is nothing wrong with that fact. Do we expect advanced calculus to be broached in viticulture? Documentary film techniques in intro to biochem? Sociology in microbial biology?

        A multidisciplinary education is important, as are courses that blend many topics. But not every course can broach every topic, nor should that attempt be made. Not every course needs a chapter on diversity.

    • Room101

      Abolish all STEM disciplines.
      It’s “racist”.

  • Batista

    I am not paying for an education on diversity. The University can pander all it wants to this PC nonsense, but any student who does not support it should be given a refund for the costs associated with same and be entitled to opt out of any thought police required courses. Tyranny of the minority is still a tyranny.

  • Batista

    This video is very poignant.

  • Batista

    “There is such a thing called “white privilege.” White privilege is the ability to walk into a room and not have to worry about people’s preconceptions about you merely based on the color of your skin.” Sorry there is no such thing as white privilege. The ability to walk into a room and not worry about people’s preconceptions is an ability that transcends race and gender. Clearly white people can claim they must fear walking into a room and being judged as “racist” or “privileged” merely due to the color of their skin by people like you. I do regret that you worry what some ignorant strangers MIGHT think about you when you walk into a room. The fact that you believe only persons with dark skin confront this fear is unfortunate. People of all colors are subject to varying degrees of agoraphobia. Yours does not give you the right to force non-racists, and those who do not make such shallow uninformed snap judgments (the majority of us) to submit to your dictates. I am truly sorry for your lack of faith in the majority of people, but reject your attempts to generalize and group people into stereotypes based upon skin color. It truly is racist and detracts from ending the ignorance that some blacks, whites and others still suffer from. The classes you seek to foist upon the innocent would fail as they are based upon broken logic.

  • Professor

    As a while male professor, I will never dare to say my feelings openly. All I hear is how much I am unwanted here. Again and again I hear that we need more “non-white males” professor.

    • Room101

      Your very existence is a Hate Crime.
      Live and learn.

  • John Randall

    Hey Cornell, sit down, take a deep breath, and relax. Cornell is a university, a place where people are supposed to be able to learn things, including about each other. Students can learn outside the classroom as well as inside it and are naturally curious. They can learn about each other and from each other through informal social contacts, a fancy term for talking to each other about common interests and about interests they don’t have in common. You don’t have to control these conversations. Such conversations can break down stereotypes and show their participants that character matters more than ethnicity, religion (or lack thereof), and skin color.

    • Room101

      Your post is a textbook prescription for career suicide.

      No one can be trusted unless you have more cameras than your accuser.

  • Batista

    Well said. Both sides become emotional and go to far at times. Honest, open, unregulated discourse is the only way to work through these feelings; with no one fearing being punished for their opinions.

    • Room101


    • Room101

      If you’re a White-Privileged-White-Racist professor or student or TA, do you want to say anything to anyone?
      It’s inadvisable for anyone to talk to anyone if you want a career.
      WTG, Cornell.
      But you’re not alone.

      • YouGuysAreConfused

        It’s diversity in the student body within the class. NOT curriculum. No one is asking microbiology to discuss racial tensions.

        • Batista

          Then what is the issue? Class of 2019 Female 52.4% Whites 36.9%.So what is it you demand? Are no white males allowed? Do we have to hire people of the color and sex you want to sit in on the classes that those like you don’t take? The University already practices active racism in admissions to accept more people who happen to be black then would otherwise be admitted at the expense of more qualified Asian applicants and white males. Why do you identify people by the color of their skin?

          • YouGuysAreConfused

            Because contrary to your belief, we live in a world that defines people and makes generalizations about people based on the color of their skin, whether you like it or not. People of color surely do not like it because this distinction often falls to their disadvantage. Clearly, your race puts you at an advantage rather than a disadvantage because you do not find these issues relevant or even real. This is evident through your belief that white privilege is not real. This is why we need to educate. Simple percentages, numbers, and quotas cannot solve the problem. It’s what we do after that to foster a community of less divided, more educated-socially and academically Cornell community.

  • Batista

    White privilege is not real, it is a fantasy the victim class makes up to justify discrimination for their benefit. White males are discriminated against in admissions, employment by Corporations, appointments as Judges, hiring for government jobs, promotions for corporate and government jobs, issuing of government contracts. All due to the white color of there skin regardless of their merits. We can all agree the victim class wants to define themselves by skin color to demand handouts and favoritism over others who never discriminated against anyone. You do understand all Universities discriminate against Asians and white males to favor those who happen to be black correct? How does this constitute while or Asian privilege? Do you even understand what privilege and discrimination means?

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